No Snorting Coke, in the Scrum. Battle of Kinsale.

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Officials warn of no-tolerance approach to drugs at Kinsale rugby festival, following 2019 ‘snowfest’

• 11h ago

Rugby fans are furious that people who attended the town to party, rather than to enjoy the sport, should have generated such unwanted headlines. Stock image/Getty© Getty Images

Kinsale’s world-famous rugby sevens festival celebrates its 35th anniversary this weekend.

But those attending the tournament will be greeted by special signs erected around the competition venue warning about anti-social behaviour and the dangers posed by drugs.

The signs were on the direct instructions of west Cork’s Judge James McNulty.

The judge admitted he was appalled by the number of people arriving before his courts having been caught in possession of cocaine by Gardaí while attending the 2019 event.

His tough approach to the matter – recording convictions for possession of a Class A drug rather than opting for the probation act – eventually made national headlines.

Over the May bank holiday weekend in 2019, a total of 29 people were arrested for drug possession in Kinsale. Overwhelmingly, those arrested were in their 20s and 30s, male, university educated and, in almost all cases, in well paid white-collar jobs.

Those who appeared before the judge worked in various professions including the law, accountancy, pharmacy, marketing and engineering.

In one court report detailed by The Southern Star, Judge McNulty described the 2019 event as akin to “a snow fest”.

The UN now ranks Ireland joint fourth highest in the world for per capita cocaine consumption – with 2.4pc of people admitting to having taken the drug over the previous 12 months.

This puts Ireland on par with the US for cocaine use, and behind only Australia, the Netherlands and Spain.

Kinsale is now determined that it remains best known for the quality of its restaurants and tourism industry, rather than drug arrests. But its new court-directed signs set out in stark terms the price to be paid for anti-social behaviour and drug abuse.

“Kinsale is a special place – while you are here do not get involved in disorderly conduct,” the signs say.

“Assaults, public order and drug offences are treated very seriously in the local court. Remember that a conviction for a drug offence will affect your career prospects and may spoil your future travel plans.”

The direction to erect drug warning signs around Kinsale for the 2023 event was described by some locals as transforming the picturesque Cork coastal town into: “Three Billboards Outside Kinsale, Cork.”

Others joked that the event should be rebranded as ‘The Cocaine Sevens’, given that more than €11,000 worth of drugs was ultimately seized by Gardaí four years ago around the town.

But for Kinsale and the local rugby club, which has spent 35 years building the event into an internationally-renowned competition, it is no laughing matter.

The club and community have backed Judge McNulty’s tough approach to drugs. The rugby club points out that their focus is on health, sport and personal well-being.

Kinsale rugby officials have vowed to work hand-in-glove with the Gardaí to ensure all forms of drugs and anti-social behaviour are fully deterred.

And rugby fans are furious that people who attended the town to party, rather than to enjoy the sport, should have generated such unwanted headlines.

One sevens player who has competed in Kinsale for years said there is an outside element “who have no interest in rugby and couldn’t tell a rugby ball from a volleyball.”

Meanwhile, Councillor Kevin Murphy paid tribute to the stance taken by Judge McNulty and said other Irish communities would benefit if a similar no-nonsense stance was taken.

“It was just appalling to see the condition of well-dressed young men in Kinsale that weekend (in 2019) – lying on the pavement, totally ossified from drink and drugs,” he said.

Mr Murphy also said Garda manpower was now a significant issue.

“Kinsale is a great community. There is so much positive going on here that it is a shame we are talking about this. But I certainly applaud the judge’s tough line on drugs and I would hope we will see Garda manpower addressed as an issue in Kinsale.”

Solicitor Diarmuid O’Shea of Adams Donnelly Solicitors said Kinsale is a great town and deserved better than the headlines it has received.

Fellow solicitor Eamonn Fleming – who defended many of those who appeared before the district court on cocaine possession charges – felt so strongly over the matter he felt compelled to write a detailed article in May 2019.

“Prior to 2017, I defended nobody from the Kinsale Sevens for possession of coke,” he wrote.

“Since then, I have defended on average six people per year for the last two years for possession of cocaine, and already I have a number of people for possession of cocaine at the Sevens from this current (2019) May bank holiday weekend.

“The profile of all is remarkably similar. All, without exception, are young men – mostly with no previous convictions for drugs.

“Not necessarily people that play rugby, who have gone to the Sevens for the weekend experience, and who are not from Kinsale. The locals are too smart to buy or consume drugs in Kinsale.”

Judge McNulty’s tough approach to the matter reflected concern not just at the number of arrests and the prevalence of cocaine – but also at the wider societal implications.

In essence, that well-heeled young professionals were dabbling in cocaine, with the money spent on the drug then fuelling organised crime enterprises that were wreaking havoc on vulnerable communities and poor countries.

“As I have previously observed, (this drug money) makes millionaires out of thugs,” Judge McNulty said.

He also noted that many of those appearing before him on cocaine possession charges were representatives of “a gifted, privileged and spoilt generation.”

However, his decision to impose convictions for drug possession on those caught with cocaine – even in relatively small amounts – didn’t meet with universal approval.

The majority of those who received convictions subsequently had them overturned on appeal to the Circuit Court, a total of 12 alone being successfully appealed in March 2020.

The father of one young man, who was handed a conviction despite pleas for a heavy fine or major court charity contribution given the implications for his job, felt some had been made scapegoats.

“What my son did was wrong – I am not for one minute defending him or anyone caught with cocaine. As a family, we were shocked and appalled that he would even think of doing what he did.”

His son had a small quantity of cocaine in his possession – gardaí accepted there was no question of it being for sale or supply, and a simple possession charge was levelled.

“He had learned his lesson. The publicity surrounding the court appearances was punishment enough. We had no problem with a fine or large charity contribution.

“We didn’t even have a problem with him volunteering to help a drugs charity to see at first hand the consequences of drugs.”

The man’s son was a model student and had never been in a garda station before, let alone have any previous convictions.

“I fully understand what the judge was trying to do. But I felt the same message could have been delivered much more effectively without imposing a conviction and without risking destroying any young man’s future for one foolish mistake.”

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